My envelope from Beatle, George Harrison, April 1968.
What was truly remarkable was the letter waiting for me in our mailbox when we came home. It was in a long brown envelope, with stamps of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; it was addressed to me. Everything was written in black India ink, much different from the ball point pen markings that have become common for many years now.
The letter included a return address: it read Rishikesh, Himalayas, India. I didn’t know what to think. I don’t recall now, but I suspect I thought it might be from Terry, a friend (about 15 years older than me) who had gone to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi. I had sent a letter to George Harrison through my friend, Terry (who was in the TM class with him), telling him how much I loved Lady Madonna (they had just come out with that song not long before), and also responding to an offer that George had made to me via my friend, Terry.
You see, while Terry was in India he and George had gotten into a conversation one day, and Terry had mentioned some young friends he had in the states who played in a rock band. George had graciously offered to pick out a sitar while he was in India (he was popularizing the native Indian instrument at the time) and have it sent to me if I would send him $100. I had just bought an Fender amplifier and had no money to send, so I wrote George through Terry, telling him that if he wanted to send one anyway, that would be all right (I thought he might find this funny, and do it, of course). But he did one better than even my dream – he wrote me a personal letter.
I was beyond elated, of course. I was fourteen years old at the time, and totally enamored with the Beatles. I carried his letter around in my wallet for years so I could show it to folks (I also practiced signing his autograph so much that I could probably write it better than George himself). Eventually, it began to turn brown like the leather of my wallet, and the folded creases became somewhat brittle. It was time to put it away somewhere.
So, it went into a photo album so I could flatten it out again, and protect it with a plastic sheet. Years went by until one day it occurred to me that I might ought to put it into the safe deposit box at the bank. After all, it was probably valuable, and fire damage or theft (though unlikely) were real possibilities. So, that is where it went.
It was a sad day as I was driving to work early on the morning of December 1, 2001. NPR started playing his exquisitely written song, Something, and I knew instantly that George had left this life for the next.
As the weeks passed after his death I began to think of that old letter again, and how much it might mean to folks to be able to see it. So, I contacted the Atlanta History Center to ask if they might be interested in displaying it. They suggested I talk with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was quite interested, indeed. The man I spoke with there said there was not that much George Harrison memorabilia (compared with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, particularly), and the fact that he had drawn a picture in my letter made it even more unique. He suggested I send it to them immediately; they would display it for two or three years and then return it. No forms to sign, no special mailing arrangements, etc.
Something about the casual arrangement seemed a bit unprofessional to me, and in my suspicion I contacted the Atlanta History Center again for comment. I am glad I did. They said it was, indeed, suspicious and atypical, and advised me not to proceed.
Instead, I decided to take the pictures that you see above, cherish the memories from my teen years, and then make arrangements for the letter and envelope to be sold at auction at Christie’s in London, England that next April. That mailing process is a story all its own. But the long and the short of it is that I finally decided to risk sending it in a Fed Ex international letter envelope; it arrived safely, was auctioned that spring, and now sits in someone else’s home exuding the prestige and dramatic intrigue that something valuable like that tends to exude.
The story, of course . . . is mine to keep; it cannot be sold. And no matter who possesses the real objects, they will forever be addressed to me. From Beatle, George Harrison, himself.
I have always been impressed with celebrity. Possibly, you have, too.
I was named after Metropolitan Opera singer, Robert Merrill (Merrill is my middle name). And my father always spoke with glowing admiration of his favorite singer, John Charles Thomas (whom he got to meet and sing for in a private train car in Chattanooga, Tennessee). My friendship with a famous country music star (that I will not name, to protect his privacy) of the past is one that I will always prize.
I know they are people, just like the rest of us. But something magical happens when celebrities dip into our little worlds, doesn’t it? And when they do . . . it reminds us once again . . . this life we are living is, indeed, remarkable.